Bangladesh Grameen borrowers face debt mountain after cyclone

AMTOLA VILLAGE, Bangladesh, Nov 24, 2007 (AFP) – Nearly 20 years ago when small loans from the Nobel peace prize winning Grameen bank first became available in her village, Bilkis Begum wasted no time in signing up. “The Grameen Bank has made profits from the interest we pay. We have also benefited, (but) I am telling the truth when I say I have nothing left.”

From 1985 she took out loans to start a small shop, buy a rice threshing machine and a betel leaf farm. Hard work and a shrewd business sense brought her success after success.

But like thousands of other borrowers, Bilkis, 40, is facing financial ruin after the devastating November 15 cyclone which has left her destitute and worried about her outstanding debts.

“My businesses were all very successful, but now I have lost everything,” she said, estimating the worth of her small enterprises at between 500,000 and 700,000 taka (7,140 – 10,000 dollars).

“Everything is lost and all the improvements we made are gone,” she said, gesturing toward her ruined village which lies 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Dhaka.

Bilkis survived the cyclone-powered tidal wave that engulfed the village by climbing a tree and is now struggling to find food